Rethinking Reentry

November 27, 2018

Pictured above:  (left to right) The JEVS team in Nashville for Design Camp:  Jeffrey Booth, Kathy Tracey (Minds That Move Us coach), Rachel Aucott, Patricia Slowe, Clara Thompson and Jeff Abramowitz.  

JEVS Human Services is one of ten national finalists in the 2018 Minds That Move Us Adult Career Pathways Challenge, coordinated by the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) in partnership with the Coalition for Adult Basic Education (COABE) and the National Association for State Directors for Adult Education (NASDAE), with funding from the ECMC Foundation.

Our team attended the Minds That Move Us Design Camp in Nashville in August, and will continue to develop and refine our innovative idea — career pathway connections for returning citizens with disabilities— over the next year. This experience is providing the opportunity to connect with national nonprofit, policy, and funding partners who are focused on adult career pathway development.

We asked two of our team members–one from our disabilities services group and one from our program behind the walls in the county jail — why this project was important to them.  Here’s what they had to say:

Clara Thompson, Senior Vice President, Community Living and Home Supports

I believe that JEVS Minds that Move Us project is important because so many returning citizens have invisible disabilities as well as noticeable ones. It creates an added barrier to employment. Most returning citizens have endured trauma that, even they, may not recognize so it is important to address these barriers to help assure employment success and getting back on track in society.

I have worked with people with disabilities for over 30 years and I see how the community and professionals as well can misunderstand behaviors and reactions to situations. In most situations, the results of misunderstanding are devastating for the person and they end up in prison. I am not advocating that disability is an excuse for a crime, but I am advocating that when leaving prison, returning citizens get the proper support they need. Some people may not have entered the prison system with a disability, but they leave with one due to trauma endured during their stay.

The criminal justice system, behavioral health system, and developmental disability systems in PA have not historically shared information or best practices. No one has been able to treat the whole person and people with disabilities can get completely lost in the prison system. Our biggest challenge at JEVS is to overcome system issues and bring our expertise together to understand what the person needs to be successful. Not only do we need to overcome system issues, but also our own biases and understanding so that we can provide the best support to the individual.

I believe that JEVS can rise to this challenge because we see the need in people throughout our various programs and we are motivated to find a way to make a difference.

Patricia Slowe, Director, JEVS Program for Offenders 

From my perspective, the Minds That Move Us project is important because it gives us a greater opportunity to focus on individuals with disabilities: visible, hidden and undiagnosed. Here at the Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP), there are no programs to address their issues and no aftercare or wrap-around services once they are released.  With the Minds that Move Us project, we get a chance to serve a population that has been underserved.  Once the individuals attend and complete the workshops and become employed, their self-esteem will certainly be increased.  When you feel better about yourself, you can do better.

I believe that the biggest challenge in this process is getting the participants comfortable enough with us to let us help them. Often times when working with participants I have found that it can take some time to build trust.  Sometimes they will say we heard it all before, and when we get to the location where the services are supposed to be provided either there is no help or they have to jump through several hoops before they are seen, leaving them to ask the question if they have really come to the right place.  I believe for this to be a success we have to plan carefully, continue to challenge ourselves to have the right people be apart of the project, be willing to make the necessary changes along the way, and find out what the participants needs and goals are.  Perhaps we also need to do an individualized plan for each person.  When we deliver,  help them reach their goal of training and get them started on the career pathway, then I believe we will get tremendous buy-in.

JEVS has a long history of working with people who have disabilities, and it has been successful.  We have the benefit of their expertise.  They have a stellar report card.  They’ve been doing this work long enough  and can give us some pointers on how to work with this population in addition to helping us create curriculum and strategies.  As I look around the room, we have a group of individuals who have a great passion for the work.  They will put the energy in to help make this a success.  JEVS has a number of clients that they have served who can speak to their personal success, tell the story of how if it had not been for JEVS and caring people like you and me they would not have been successful.  I am certain that the work that we do on this project will become a nationally recognized program and a model for other cities to follow. 

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